Wheeling With Responsibility

We have a great time on our off-road adventures and enjoy spending time in the great outdoors. With these activities comes responsibility. The responsibility of maintaining a healthy environment for everyone to enjoy. That means packing it out, leaving no trace and treading lightly.

Tread Lightly!, Inc. is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to proactively protect recreation access and opportunities in the outdoors through education and stewardship initiatives.

Tread Lightly! Awareness is a great place to start if you are looking to learn about taking care of the places we call special or to teach others the benefits of wheeling responsibly. This online course really delivers a solid educational experience. It is free and you can complete it in your PJs… TMI?

When you are ready to take the next step, sign up for a Tread Trainer course where you will learn outdoor ethics focusing on motorized, mechanized or water recreation. The trainer program is an instructor lead course where students are given a crash course in outdoor ethics and taught to deliver tread lightly presentations to local schools, clubs and organizations.

Treat Lightly! puts out a great Newsletter so you can keep up on their events and stay on top of using our trails and water systems responsibly.

There are few things more rewarding than giving back to whatever it is that makes you smile. Participating in Tread Lightly! is on opportunity for anyone who enjoys wheeling in the great outdoors. Take a few moments to gain perspective on our environment and spend time at a site where rig, cycle and water craft owners come together to protect and ensure the national inheritance of our children.

Diversity On The Podium

As long as I can remember, which is quite awhile now, I have watched the Olympic Games with the devotion seen only from a wet nosed mutt chewing on a new shoe waiting for his master’s return.

I watched the Olympics when the summer and winter games were held in the same year and I had to contain my enthusiasm for another four years. I watched when the athletes were amateurs, or at least much closer to amateur status. I watched when it was the USA against the Iron Curtain of Communism. I watched when Mark Spitz took seven gold metals, Nadia Comaneci put up a perfect 10, Eddy The Eagle flew, Fosbury flopped and there was a Miracle on Ice. I watched as Bruce Jenner and Mary Lou Retton joined the elite few on the Wheaties box. And I watched when nothing spectacular happened.

This year, I watched as Phelps succeeded Spitz’ with eight gold metals. There have been a number of other great athletic accomplishments and there is still more to come. But none of this is why I watch.

There was a moment, just a little moment, when swimmer Dara Torres stalled the start of a qualifying 50 meter heat in order for a competitor to change her suit and make it to the starting block on time. Dara performed a completely selfless act for another and in that moment exemplified all that has ever been good about the Olympics and why I watch. In that moment there were no politics, no racial, ethnic or cultural boundaries. There were only friends around the pool. On the field, the slopes, the track, ice rink or in the pool athletes are fierce competitors; outside of that, the great ones are just people looking out for one another and ensuring everyone has the opportunity they deserve.

The men and women who are fortunate enough to participate in the Olympic Games represent far more than their country. Every once in awhile they represent what is best in the human race and allow us all to share the touch of a helping hand, a fist bump between competitors or a pin exchange that will never see the podium and still stand taller than any metal winner ever will.

I’ve watched the Olympics forever and as long as competitors from around the world extend their hand out to one another I will continue to believe the endless capacity of the human soul… And watch the Olympic Games.

Not So Accidental Mexican

As a person not known for their planning and organizational skills, it may have shocked quite a few people when I actually moved to Mexico. I planned it a few years in advance, with two friends and with a completely different agenda, but even as those friends dropped out, my intention remained firm.

There is a lot to be said for research, and thanks to the internet, that research is surprisingly easy. There are innumerable resources available really no matter where you intend to land, all thanks to those who have blazed trails before you. Use them, listen to them. You might think you are unique, that you can handle a lot more than people give you credit. Like me. You might find you were probably wrong a little bit.

I had the great fortune of traveling to my area of choice, Cancun, Mexico, twice yearly for quite a few years prior to my move, and during these trips I made sure to make contact with and befriend several expatriates in the area. I kept in touch, I asked questions, I gave respect where it was due, I became their mule. I also listened to their complaints, and made notes. When the time came, I was able to arrange a furnished apartment in a fairly centralized neighborhood well ahead of time, thanks to these new friends of mine. Securing accommodations prior to my arrival was probably the smartest thing that I ever did, especially for me, someone who was becoming more and more set in her routine as the years ticked past. It is important to know that picking up stakes and moving to a foreign land is a difficult thing to do mentally, and knowing you have a home is more comforting than you might think.

Daily life in a resort town like Cancun can be challenging. I had very limited Spanish when I arrived, but was confident I would pick up more. I had not even considered that most of the residents were either bilingual or aspired to be, and any opportunity to practice their English was a golden one. Enter the white girl, who has no car and takes a lot of taxis. I would implore them to speak Spanish to me; they would implore me to speak English to them. They generally won.

But because life is not simply riding around in taxis, and includes such mundane tasks as going to the supermarket, doing laundry, and paying one’s electric bill, I had many opportunities to improve my bilingualism. In the beginning, I learned how to ask for a phone card, how to get back to my building, and how to purchase fresh mango from the ladies who trolled the beaches. I learned how to beg for my laundry to be finished by the evening of the same day that I had brought it in. I learned how to call for water from the water guy and how to say “no mayonnaise” for just about everything sold out of the basket of a bicycle at dusk. As time went on, I was able to successfully explain to the neighbors below that I did not, in fact, leave my faucet on, that the leak in their roof was not coming from my apartment. I was able to convince my building manager that even though I was from the United States, and NOT Canada, I was a nice girl. Oregon is a long way from New York in many ways, they found.

Living in Cancun is really not terribly different than living anywhere else in the United States. No matter where you go, you have to adapt. When I moved to Southern California, I learned to calculate driving time into every task I needed to complete. When I moved to Ohio I learned to deal with small-minded mentality. Here, I have learned that some of the stuff you have to deal with in day to day living is really not that big of a deal.

Stuff like no water in the evenings, or the stove not working suddenly, or the overhead light in my bedroom losing its connection. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all adaptation. It’s no big deal. If I wake up one morning and find I have no electricity, or no cable, I learned that I just had to figure out something else to do with my time, and that sooner or later it would come back. I think it made me calmer. I can deal with almost anything now. Almost. Still not a big fan of critters, and I don’t think I ever will be.

Making this move, or any major move, when you are young and in your twenties is hard enough. Doing it on the edge of forty is something else. I went from a comfortable life with money in the bank to a life of making sure I didn’t spend too much money every week, and having crappy purses and wearing the same t-shirts and Birkenstocks every day. I think throughout my life I have learned that you need to be friendly and courteous to people. That helped me immensely in Cancun. People just respond better when you are smiling.

I have also learned that you are nothing if you don’t have friends. I like my solitude, but I love the friends that I have made. I owe that to striking out a little, and if I was uncomfortable at the beginning, it has paid off. I am not so afraid of that anymore.

I have always had compassion for the people in the States for whom English is not their first language. Now I am sympathetic to their plight. Being in a foreign country with the tables turned has taught me that. I am lucky that I lived in a place where having more English is beneficial to the worker when it comes to employment, but not everyone has English and it is disrespectful to not speak the language native to the country in which you live. So you adapt. You learn to speak up even if you think it sounds awful. You learn to have conversations. You learn to type text messages and instant messages in Spanish. Sometimes your thoughts and your dreams have some Spanish in them. It’s funny but I can’t really recall when that happened. I am pleased that in this time it has.

My advice to anyone wanting to make a move somewhere completely different, no matter how long that move might last or how far away, would be to expect everything, be surprised at nothing, and don’t let it get you down if things are not what you expect them to be. What makes our world more exciting is its diversity, and keeping little bits of those wonderful differences in your soul makes you a better person on the inside and the outside.

Just Betty and Me

Off-road adventures come in all flavors. This one, came in what I like to call, iced quad vente, seven pump vanilla, caramel sauce top and bottom, light ice, half cream half virgin soy, extra whip, white chocolate mocha with peppermint sprinkles and just a hint of Madagascar cinnamon.

Like a personal coffee order designed to test your barista’s patience and stamina, when it comes to off road adventures you can’t please everyone… so you got to go by your self. While sitting in the Toyota dealer’s service center I put together this run which would be a solo nighttime adventure through the high country of the Olympic National Forest out to Obstruction Peak. Of course by solo I mean with Hula Betty, she is after all stuck to the dash.

Betty and I left for the peninsula around 7:00 p.m. cruising over the Hood Canal and jumping onto highway 101. As we followed the highway bypass, that now diverts you around Sequim, I sifted through the mental rolodex pulling up memories of trips with the kids that always ended at the Hi-way 101 Diner, a retro 50s diner that serves just about everything including burgers, grill cheese, pizza, meatloaf, real malts and ice cream sundaes served in old fashion glass boats topped with chocolate sauce and a cherry. The kids still tell me the 101 Diner is the best. It is amazing what they remember from when you were three.

The road to Hurricane Ridge starts on the outskirts of Port Angeles. Another ritual the kids and I would follow on winter sledding trips was to stop at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. Betty and I made that stop. Not to look at the exhibits or get trail condition reports, but to check the lugs, verify fluid levels and test the lights before heading up to the Heart O’ the Hills, the North East entry point into the park.

Last winter’s record snow fall has played havoc on the roads. The normally placid tarmac from the entry to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center is in the middle of a complete face lift. Navigating to the top involves moving from asphalt to gravel, from two lanes to one and back again. Luckily at 8:30 p.m. traffic was off the mountain and we zipped up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center parking lot. Pulling into the lot, I immediately spotted one of the reasons I picked this trial, dear. Several of them were wondering the meadows as the last rays of the sun filtered through the surrounding peaks. Gazing over the blanket of wild flowers Hula Betty and I watched as the last visitors and the sun left for lower elevations.

I’ve hiked from Dear Park to Obstruction Peak, I’ve driven the dirt road that takes you to Obstruction Peak, I’ve even snow shoed a portion of the way. But I have never gone that way in the dark, by myself. As the tires slowly rolled from the tarmac onto dirt, the clouds only yards above us, began to release their hold on the moisture captured from the sound a few miles away. Rolling down the dirt trail with a lite rain, soft breeze and only our own lights to guide the way, gave Hula Betty and I plenty to think about.

This is not a technical drive. This was my opportunity to clear my head and enjoy the sights and sounds of the night. Keeping the speed down to avoid the dear who occasionally bounded up the hill and across the road, reminded me how lucky I am to live within an hour and half of this magnificent forest.

As we (yes I know Hula Betty is not real, but she is a great listener) rolled past the PJ Lake trail head I smiled at the memory of lunch with the family at the lake nearly 10 years back. Easing past the trail head we started to climb above tree line and came upon a turn out that allowed us to look down and see the lights of Port Angeles below and the faint glow of Victoria, Canada in the distance.

Winding little switchbacks took the rig higher where we spotted patches of snow clinging for life in the shadows of the slopes. The last few block of the dirt road feel like a moon scape in the dark. You wind back and forth, up and down the hills that take you up to Obstruction Peak, 6,450 ft above sea level where we started.

There is no over night camping at Obstruction Peak, but the parking area held a dozen or so all wheel drive cars and trucks belonging to backpackers who had escaped into the hills. The trail head signs talk about bear and cougar that frequent the area and although I had seen a number of dear, no carnivore sightings. Hoping to catch a glimpse of a bear I wondered about looking across the high meadows to the cloud covered peaks when the rain started to gain strength driving me back to the shelter of the rig and Hula Betty’s company. It was at that point I realized I had driven and walked around for six hours without exchanging a single word. My thoughts, memories and the natural sites had me engaged throughout this little Zen meditation run.

Heading back down the 7 mile dirt road, gravity and a foot on the gas ramped up the tempo to a brisk drive. The lights provided visibility, which seemed to reach around the corners, allowing us to scoot down the road at a healthy pace. Healthy enough to set off the yaw detector alarm once.

The dirt road quickly came to an end as the Rig returned to the Hurricane Ridge parking lot we started at a few hours earlier. Letting gravity control the pace, the drive down to the Hart O’ Hills entrance ebbed and flowed with the steepness of the decent. Entering Port Angeles’ city limits, the lights I’d seen from above were now the hustle and bustle of McDonald’s, Safeway and the other trappings of ordinary life.

The drive home continued the casualness that marked this evening. Rolling over the Hood Canal Bridge the water sat still in the glow of the bridge reflecting the billows of the clouds above. The last turn off the highway signaled the return to home. Pulling into the drive way I lingered in the driver’s seat for a moment or two enjoying the moment and planning the next off road adventure drive. Dear Park at night could be fun.

Thin Line Between Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

The Northwest FJ Cruiser Club out of the Portland area was going to run the Tillamook Forest OHV trails at night and it seemed like the off-road adventure to try out our lights from Baja Design. It also presented an opportunity to meet up with my old buddy Kevin and introduce him to all the craziness of my mid-life crises.

Pulling into Tigard, Kevin and his family welcomed me with open arms. They always keep my favorite couch ready for just such an occasion, no matter how late I show up. These are the kind of friends you can drop in on after a long absence and it feels like you were never disconnected. You know, those guys you stay up late chatting with, sharing stories of your kids, work and the fishing trips you planned but never got around to taking. That is Kevin and his family.

Browns Camp is in the Tillamook State Forest filled with moderate rated 4×4 trails connected by logging roads and perfect for a long night of wheeling. We caught up with the club at a little dinner, Coleman’s Shady Rest, a few miles from the trail where we ate, gassed up and introduced ourselves.

At the trail head everyone settled into the business at hand, airing down tires, double checking equipment and comparing rigs. Bernd, who we met and wheeled with on our FJ Summit Adventure, was going to be our leader with Jim, the club president, as tail gunner.

The rest of us… settled into the pack as we saddled up for this off-road adventure. I choose the last slot just in front of Jim so I could watch the parade of FJ Cruisers through the woods.

Bernd took the group out around 5:30 pm so we could get in some trails while the sun was still shining and ease into wheeling on the dark side of the moon. This turned out to be a good thing since we had the opportunity to assist a motorcyclist stranded on the side of the trail. Those guys don’t have a lot of room for gear and he needed a socket to pull his spark plug.

Our group pulled together, found the right socket and helped get him back on the trail. You never know when you’re going to need a little trail Karma so we took the opportunity to make a deposit into our Karma accounts.

Kevin and I have gone all over the west chasing salmon and trout with a fly rod but this was our first off road adventure together. As navigator Kevin was responsible for ensuring we didn’t get lost and photos. Kevin is a great photographer. He sees the angles and opportunities others miss. The photos on this post… All Kevin.

Women will tell you size matters and they are right when it comes to off-road lights. When we turned on the roof lights the folks in front got a sun tan and a few planes started to divert from their approach at PDX . In fact for the trail run we only needed our Soltek lights down on the bull bar since they put out so much light and throw a nice wide patter. But lets be honest here, we turned them all on just so we could signal Bat Man and feel our testosterone levels spike each time we hit the switches on those bad boys.

Running at night on tight, sometimes really tight, trails is a whole different animal. Night runs give you the sense your in another world with ET lurking just outside of the light’s reach. You definitely focus on the trail since there is none of that beautiful landscape to distract you. And when you do stop to rest, the Milky Way Galaxy seems to spill out of the rig with you, bathing everything in light while still hiding the mysteries of the forest.

This run was definitely a hit. I opted out of a few obstacles since I’m still in practice mode with the more technical trails and I’m ok with building my skill level before tackling the extreme stuff. I did get an opportunity to see how others picked lines and they made it look easy. When it was all said and done, we met some great people who enjoy wheeling and we found out we had a lot more than rigs in common. With any luck I’ll be running more trails with this group down the road.

The long night didn’t get any shorter as Kevin and I decided to pay homage to Boy by stopping at, you guessed it, Denny’s for a late night, early morning burger before pulling into the homestead sometime around 2:00 a.m.

Long days, good friends, new trails… not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.